Poppi: Castles and Falcons

April 17, 2014 / Places
Poppi, Tuscany

Medieval churches and hilltop castles crowning gently curving slopes – emerald green in springtime, sprinkled with wildflowers like confetti –  characterize the Casentino valley, provincia di Arezzo.

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Towering over the tranquil Casentino town of Pratovecchio, you’ll spot the three jagged towers of the 12th century Castello di Romena, once a stronghold of the Guidi counts. Their presence is affirmed all over the area: in nearby Poppi, the crenellated 12th century Castello Guidi in local limestone stands tall above Poppi like a stalwart sentinel with sword raised.  

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Prototype of the Palazzo Vecchio of Florence and one of the finest examples of medieval fortification architecture in the Tuscan Casentino valley, the Castello dei Conti Guidi di Poppi gave refuge to the exiled Dante in the early 14th century. Legend says that he wrote a canto of the Divine Comedy’s Inferno here. Young falconer, Gherardo, training a falcon on the greensward in front of the Castello, told me proudly that Dante even mentioned Poppi’s falconers in his Inferno.

His wavy chestnut hair blew in the breeze as Gherardo swung the bait around his head in wide swoops, hoping to draw the Greenland white gyrfalcon hawk he was training back in.

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“The air currents are enticing him today… he’s having a good time,” Gherardo said with a grin as the falcon swooped in towards us and then took off again. Passionate about raptors since he was a child, bearded Gherardo trains about thirty birds – and bears them proudly in medieval and Renaissance pageantry feste in period dress (hence the beard). He invited me across the lawn to see seven hooded falcons on a perch in his jeep. 

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I asked him if he ever thought about other young falconers training their birds right here out on the lawn in front of the castle centuries ago. “Certo!” he replied with a smile. He whooped to the falcon, swung the bait out in a wide arc and in swooped the bird, right to Gherardo.

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In front of the huge bronze bust of Dante, he held the bird proudly on gloved hand so that I could take a photo. Behind the young falconer, towered the Castello Guido di Poppi. Did Dante really mention i falconieri di Poppi as he wrote a canto?

Gherardo can tell you the story…

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Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See www.annesitaly.com for more on her Umbria tours. Do see www.stayassisi.com for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

22 Responses to “Poppi: Castles and Falcons”

  1. A beautiful location! Its what I like the most about Italy – beautiful scenery with
    super interesting historical buildings and ruins around every bend in the road!

    Reply
  2. Bob Blesse

    Wonderful story and beautiful photos—thanks, Anne! We’re looking forward to visiting Poppi one day, part of the Dante trail!

    Reply
  3. Louise Montalbano

    Anne… You captured in words and photos what we so love about Poppi and the Casentino Valley. Thank you… We love sharing this very special place with others who also appreciates its beauty, customs and history.

    Reply
  4. Giacomo Montalbano

    Anne, thanks for the great review and pictures of the most beautiful part of Tuscany!!

    Reply
  5. Katie Larsh

    Beautiful photos and great story about Poppi! We are sooo looking forward to our visit to Italy in September!

    Reply
  6. Daria Luth

    Beautiful little town, have been there as I have a cousin and her husband living here.
    Grazie per questo scritto su Poppi, e le belle fotografie. Io sono di Trieste ed e ho assai graditoleggere il vostro scritto su Trieste, la bella citta sull’Adriatico.

    Reply
  7. Virginia C. Mars

    It is exciting to see faconers with their trained birds. Have seen them in Austria near Werfen at the castle and it is always a thrilling and beautiful sight. Thank you for showing us another fascinating spot in Tuscany.

    Reply
  8. Sandi spector

    Great story & fabulous photos. So… when does your book come out?

    Reply
  9. Deborah Salae

    Again and as always, I so enjoyed this colorful and informative peek into the past and present Italy that you know so well, Anne. I don’t what which is more interesting – your photos or your descriptions, both of them bring Italy to life. Mille grazie! Deborah

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  10. Grazie Anne for these lovely photos. I have stayed in Poppi in 2009. The history is fasinating….it’s what I love about Italy!
    Happy Easter!
    Ciao ciao,
    Dyanna

    Reply
  11. Ginny Mentel

    So well written it makes me want to go there NOW. So wonderful to know there’s a person with such knowledge of Italy! Can’t wait to meet you in June!

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  12. J. Kevin Crocker

    Amazing Anne. I have a Falcon that occasionally camps out right above my office window. Every now and then their shadow swoops by as they drop from the roof after their prey. Just love the pictures, so wonderful to get out into the country to the small towns with such rich history. Looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks.

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  13. We really enjoyed our tour of Assisi with you and look forward to our next tour this Fall. Your ability to bring all of the factors involved in the places, history and culture together and paint the entire picture is a rare gift. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  14. Gary Benvenuti

    Incredible scenery and the Castello Guido di Poppi is a magnificent and well preserved architectural achievement. I look forward to touring the area one day, hopefully with your guidance!

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  15. Kathy Kelsey

    What a wonderful article! Thanks so much for giving us more information on Poppi. It’s on my list of places to go in Italy! Enjoy reading your articles.

    Reply
  16. Dr. J. Walters

    Great article and photos. Loved reading Anne’s contribution, comments on Italy – it’s culture and food. Have followed her website for years. She possesses a wealth of knowledge and have participated in her cooking classes and tours in the past. Highly recommend!! Dr. J. Walters, Laguna Beach, CA

    Reply
  17. Eugene Ceccotti

    Annie has provided such great fun and enjoyment over the years from her tours, her cooking lessons, and her articles. Her Italian Notebook articles make me long to get back to Italy as soon as possible. I’ve never been to the Poppi area, and now I can’t wait to get there after reading about it. Thanks Annie for all your “Italian joy”. Gene Ceccotti, Marin County, California

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  18. Jan Johnson

    Thanks Anne for another informative and inspiring article. How wonderful that a young man is continuing the ancient art of falconry and is obviously so proud of his achievement. Poppi is on my list for October!!

    Reply
  19. Stephanie

    What a gorgeous day that was! Beautiful location, too. I enjoyed your story and introduction to yet another very interesting individual with a unique passion. And, yet again, you are whetting my travel appetite to go and explore this place for myself. Your writing is so alluring….makes me want to hop on the next jet out of SFO and come visit this place with you, filling in all the details of both architecture and history. Thank you, Anne, for keeping my passion for Italy well fed!

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  20. Jenny Hannan

    Well, Annie, anyone can go to a castle and notice the similarities between that castle and, e.g., the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Buy, buy goodness, surely the beauty of this entry is that you enter the environment and meet up with a falconer who gives you insight into a whole new level of discovery – Dante no less! Wonderful and insightful … and totally Annie!

    Reply

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